Faith and the Employer

The diocese of Lansing, where I currently attend mass, is a pretty good one, as such things go in the contemporary United States.  Our parish has a very good priest and I’m confident we won’t soon be joining in on the practice I’ve seen in the archdiocese of Detroit of worshiping in the round, complete with liturgical dance.

But an article in the Lansing Diocese magazine, Faith, summed up for me the reason those of us who hold to our faith’s central precepts have trouble “selling it” to people who think Catholicism is all about the powerful mistreating the weak.  In a column called “Your Life,” one Jim Berlucchi, executive director of the Spitzer Center, “whose mission is to build cultures of evangelization,” answered a question (whether real or hypothetical, I don’t know) from an employee.  The employee asked whether it was fair that his employer invited clients and workers to a party to celebrate the company’s anniversary.  Only later were the employees informed that they would be expected to work the event.

Mr. Berlucchi’s response?  “Don’t be a grump.”  To be fair, he also pointed out that employers appreciate workers “who go the extra mile” and that the clients seemed to be, and should be, the focus of a company celebration.  And it certainly is true that no employee who chooses to be “a grump” under such circumstances is likely to have a successful career at that or any other company.  What was frustrating was the insipid preaching to the employee to “reframe your fairness concern” as if the employer had behaved with perfect virtue.  Now, any prudent employee will do his best under whatever circumstances he’s given.  And a virtuous employee will give his boss the benefit of the doubt if there is a failure of communication now and then at the office.  But an employee who is told “come to the party” and later told “oh, yeah, you are actually working the party” had best keep in mind the clear limits of his boss’s respect for and loyalty toward his workers when other opportunities arise.

For someone claiming to “build cultures of evangelization” to tell an employee that he is simply wrong to recognize the unfairness of a stealth overtime requirement, that he has lost no “employee right” is morally, economically, and spiritually obtuse.  It also is doing a disservice to any employer who might be paying attention.  Employers today have much to worry about as the government continues its increasing overregulation.  But, while keeping good employees may not seem like a problem in our current, bad economy, it soon will be, and always should be a concern because good employees can find options even in bad circumstances.  Moreover, an employer who shows such disregard for his employees is behaving with selfishness and overweening pride—sins, the last time I checked.

Any employer who wants to thank his clients with a party can and should involve his employees.  And a party at which the employees do some of the work may, in fact, be the best way to do that.  But to ask extra of the employees requires that you tell them what is going on—up front.  And if you want your workers to give you there best and you want to build greater loyalty instead of understandable resentment, you should be having a meeting with them to let them know the importance of the event and get them on board.

The facile assumption that all is “fair” in employment because, after all, “it’s all about the clients” is to destroy the common feeling and commitment necessary for good business, let alone for the evangelization of the workplace.  No employee should be told that his boss is somehow gifting him his job—even if it is true.  This denial of human dignity destroys the community of the workplace, feeds into the prideful view of themselves as above judgment which some employers have, and even leads to excessive and unjust governmental regulation.

Perhaps my greatest hope for our new Pope Francis, who seems to so well combine piety, orthodoxy, and humility, is that he will serve as an example to all with wealth and power of their responsibility before God to treat workers, the poor, and all who inhabit more humble stations in life with dignity, for the sake of their businesses and for the sake of their souls.  I hope also that the Church, as it continues combating various “liberation” theologies that undermine religious faith, also will combat the serious problems of clericalism and favoritism toward those with wealth and power.

This column first appeared March 20, 2013 on The Imaginative Conservative website and is reprinted with permission.

Bruce Frohnen

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Bruce Frohnen is Professor of Law at the Ohio Northern University College of Law. He is also a senior fellow at the Russell Kirk Center and author of many books including The New Communitarians and the Crisis of Modern Liberalism, and the editor of Rethinking Rights (with Ken Grasso), and The American Republic: Primary Source. His most recent book (with the late George Carey) is Constitutional Morality and the Rise of Quasi-Law (Harvard, 2016).

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